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Supervised injection site at Drumheller should not replace needle exchange program for inmates: Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

A proposed supervised drug injection site at Drumheller Institution is concerning to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
Jeff Wilkins, president of Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, says an overdose prevention site at Drumheller Institution will be a first in Canada. Photo contributed

A proposed supervised drug injection site at Drumheller Institution is concerning to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

For a prison-based supervised injection site to succeed, prisoners must trust staff and believe that they can access the service confidentially, without exposing their drug use — a highly stigmatized and criminalized activity — to other prisoners and staff, says the agency.

“This trust and confidentiality simply does not exist within the current prison environment and the logistics of maintaining prisoners’ confidentiality in the context of a supervised injection site are hard to fathom,” states the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“In fact, no prison anywhere in the world offers prisoners access to supervised injection rooms for these very reasons.”

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) will be establishing an overdose prevention site as an alternative to the present needle exchange program. It is scheduled to be rolled out at the end of June in Drumheller.

“While we have measures in place to prevent drugs from entering institutions, we recognize that drugs on occasion will make their way into our penitentiaries. Recognizing this reality, we have a responsibility to safeguard the well-being of those under our care,” CSC states.


Drumheller’s federal prison first in Canada to open overdose prevention site for inmates

The current needle exchange program allows inmates in federal prisons to obtain an injection kit to keep in their cells. The supervised consumption site is set to replace the needle exchange program – something the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network does not want to see happen.

The benefits of the needle exchange program are widely accepted and identified by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and many other international and national agencies and health experts, as an essential health intervention in prison, the agency stated in a release.

An evidence-based prison needle exchange program will improve safety for prisoners, correctional officers and the community, the agency adds.

Correctional officers should not be responsible for “operationalizing” the needle exchange program, the agency explains, adding it should “solely run by health care staff.”

“The proposed supervised injection site at Drumheller cannot divert us from the pressing need for the Correctional Service of Canada to implement in all of its prisons an evidence-based prison needle exchange program capable of providing prisoners with easy, confidential and effective access to sterile injection equipment and all of its benefits.”

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